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2021 Volvo XC90 vs. 2020 Acura MDX: Which Is Better?

Swedish vs. Japanese design, the 2021 Volvo XC90 goes head to head with the 2020 Acura MDX. Which is better?

Quick Facts

  • The Volvo XC90 comes in a hybrid plug-in variant.
  • There is no 2021 Acura MDX. The 2022 MDX will be in showrooms in February of 2021.

2021 Volvo XC90

2021 Volvo XC90

Base price: $49,995 / Read our 2021 Volvo XC90 Review

What we like: Optional plug-in hybrid; beautiful interior; excellent optional B&W stereo; graceful exterior styling

What we would change: There’s no V6 or V8 option; physical controls for climate control, rather than touchscreen; hybrid is very expensive

Overview: At a price significantly below some of its European competitors, the 2021 Volvo XC90 offers reliable build quality, plenty of technology, sharp exterior styling, and, as expected from Volvo, plenty of safety features. A three-row midsize SUV/crossover, the XC90 offers seating for seven, although to be fair, the third row is best only for kids or short trips. Optional captain’s chairs in the second row reduce capacity to six. There is technically one engine for the XC90, a 2.0-liter four-cylinder, although the base engine is turbocharged, and the upgrade adds a supercharger for 316 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque, quite a lot from a four-cylinder. That upgrade engine is also suitable for a 5,000-pound maximum towing weight. There’s also a plug-in hybrid called the Recharge, which pairs an electric motor with this engine. The base engine is competent, although not exactly thrilling, whereas the upgrade offers plenty of power. We would not describe the XC90 as sporty, per se, but it can handle being driven aggressively.

The interior is appropriately Scandinavian, providing luxury without flash: elegant, yet practical. Upfront is a 12.3-inch digital display and a 9-inch infotainment touchscreen below it. We like it, although we prefer physical buttons for functions such as climate control. There are several trim levels, although the names can be a bit confusing. The base engine is T5, with the upgrade engine being T6 and the hybrid called Recharge. Trim levels are called Momentum, R-Design (sportier touches), and Inscription. The basic hybrid, though, is the Recharge Inscription Expression. Every XC90 comes very nicely equipped, with things like adaptive suspension, a 360-degree camera system, and a superlative Bowers & Wilkins audio system offered as upgrades.

What’s new for 2021: For 2021, the XC90 gets several technological upgrades. Full LED lights with active bending and high-pressure cleaning are now standard. Wireless charging is also standard, and the 12-volt outlet in the second row is now two USB C-ports. Parking sensors are also standard, and a programmable key is included in the base trim. Also included are name changes, with the hybrid, formerly called, T8, now called Recharge. Following that, the former Momentum T8 is now called the Recharge Inscription Expression.

Features and technology: One of Volvo’s more intriguing options for the 2021 XC90 is called Care by Volvo. It’s a subscription service ($750 for a Momentum trim, for example) that includes insurance, maintenance, and roadside assistance. Subscribers to the service can also swap vehicles after a year. New for 2021, another interesting feature is called the Care Key, which allows owners to program things such as speed limits and alerts for young drivers.

As mentioned above, standard features are generous on the XC90. It starts with adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, full LED lighting, four-zone automatic climate control, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto integration, and a panoramic moonroof. Also standard are parking sensors, high-pressure headlight cleaning, 10-way power front seats, four USB ports, and a 4-year subscription to Volvo On-Call. Options include all-wheel drive in the base trim, although it’s standard in upper trims. The R-Design adds more features like leather upholstery, 20-inch wheels, and a 600-watt Harman Kardon audio system.

Other options include an adaptive air suspension, heated seats, and steering wheel, a 360-degree camera system, massaging front seats, and the B&W audio system. Inscription models get Nappa leather upholstery, although that can be changed for a tailored wool blend instead.

What does the future hold: Volvo has traditionally been a fairly conservative company, so don’t expect anything too radical. Upgrades will likely include more technology and, of course, safety features. As we mentioned, we would like to see an optional V6 engine. Find a 2021 Volvo XC90 for sale near you

2020 Acura MDX

2020 Acura MDX

Base price: $44,500 / Read our 202 Acura MDX Review

What we like: Strong and efficient V6; solid reliability; agile handling

What we would change: Sub-par interior quality; due for a full redesign in 2022

Overview: Acura skipped the 2021 model year for the MDX, so you won’t find any on the market. Luxury shoppers looking for something on the more family-friendly and value-conscious side of midsize three-row SUVs will find a lot to love in the Acura MDX. Primarily based on the Honda Pilot, the MDX has many of its trusty Honda cousins’ virtues while being a legitimate contender in the luxury arena. With three rows of seats, a fantastic reliability rating, and a low base price for its class, the MDX is a solid choice in midsize three-row luxury crossovers.

One of the strong suits of the MDX is the powertrain. The base engine is a naturally-aspirated V6 that delivers a very satisfying blend of muscle and efficiency. It may not have fancy performance variants, but the V6 is more than sufficient for most people’s needs. Front-wheel drive is standard, and all-wheel drive is optional. However, AWD is standard when you opt for the MDX Sport Hybrid, which gets you a pretty decent fuel economy with 26 city/27 highway mpg.

What’s new for 2020: There are no notable updates to the MDX for 2020.

Features and technology: The Acura MDX is technically a one-option vehicle but has several option packages available. SH-AWD can be added to any trim for an extra $2,000, but it comes standard with the A-Spec and Entertainment packages. For the MDX Sport Hybrid, the base model is the Technology Package, and the Advance Package is an available upgrade.

The standard Acura MDX is well-appointed for a base model. It comes standard with a dual-screen infotainment system with Bluetooth, SiriusXM, Android Auto, and Apple CarPlay. Plus, you get six USB ports throughout the car, leather seating, heated front seats, tri-zone automatic climate control, and a moonroof. As for safety tech, standard features include lane-departure warning, automatic high-beams, and the AcuraWatch safety tech suite. AcuraWatch comes with collision mitigation and braking, lane-keep assist, road departure warning, and adaptive cruise control.

Move up the ladder to the A-Spec if you want a cooler-looking vehicle without any performance upgrades. There are optional technology and entertainment packages to add on, should you need to keep your kids entertained on longer rides, too.

What does the future hold: The all-new 2022 Acura MDX will be sold starting February 2021. See the 2020 Acura MDX models for sale near you

XC90 vs. MDX: Strengths comparison

Volvo XC90 Benefits: Great standard safety and self-driving technology; plug-in hybrid variant.

Acura MDX Benefits: Better priced; good resale and reliability

2021 Volvo XC90 vs. 2020 Acura MDX: Which is better?

This is a tough call. The XC90 offers tons of advanced security while the MDX is slightly better priced, but a new one is coming. If money is an issue, go with the MDX. If you have some cash to spare, we say that the Volvo XC90 is a better bet in this comparison. Find a Volvo XC90 for sale or Find  2020 Acura MDX models for sale

Popular Powertrains 2021 Volvo XC90 2020 Acura MDX
Engine 2.0-liter turbo I-4 3.5-liter V6
Horsepower 250 hp @ 5,500 rpm 290 hp @ 6200 rpm
Torque 258 lb-ft @ 1,500 rpm 267 lb-ft @ 4700 rpm
Transmission 8-speed automatic 9-speed automatic
Fuel Economy 25 mpg (21 city/30 highway) 23 mpg (27 city/27 highway)
Also Available AWD; 2.0L turbo+supercharged; PHEV Hybrid; AWD
Warranty 4 years/50,000 miles 4 years/50,000 miles
Powertrain warranty 4 years/50,000 miles 6 years/ 70,000 miles
NHTSA Overall Safety 5 stars 5  stars
Max Seating Capacity 7 7
Wheelbase 117.5 inches 111 inches
Overall Length 194.9 inches 196. 2 inches
Width 79.1 inches 77.7 inches
Height 69.9 inches 67.4 inches
Turning Diameter 38.7 feet 38.7 feet
Headroom, Front 38.9 inches 38.1 inches
Headroom, 2nd row 38.5 inches 38.3 inches
Headroom, 3rd row 36.3 inches 35.6 inches
Legroom, Front 40.9 inches 41.4 inches
Legroom, 2nd row 37.0 inches 36.6 inches
Legroom, 3rd row 31.9 inches 30.9 inches
Shoulder Room, Front 57.7 inches 61.1 inches
Shoulder Room, 2nd row 56.5 inches 59.1 inches
Shoulder Room, 3rd row 46.9 inches 54.7 inches
EPA Passenger Volume 103.8 cubic feet 132.7 cubic feet
EPA Cargo Volume 65.5 cubic feet 43.4 cubic feet

Abigail Bassett
Abigail Bassett
Abigail Bassett is a freelance journalist based in L.A. and she's covered automotive topics for a variety of well-known outlets including Fortune, Forbes, CNN and Motor Trend. She's also a television and video host and regularly covers breaking news, social justice, technology, health and wellness, and science in addition to her car coverage. When she's not working on her next project she's... Read More about Abigail Bassett

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